Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wisteria and the World of Wall St. – II

I have read a number of books by Christian authors on business, and I’ve heard a number of Christian speakers on business; why have I never heard about the Cross and business and wealth, and why have I never heard about the underlying dangers associated with the generation of wealth?

Having written the above, I suppose I’ll need to make a few statements for those of you who don’t know me. My first career was in business and to the best of my recollection I’ve never held to a sacred-secular dichotomy; that is, I’ve always looked at vocation as sacred, whether it is the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, or the investment banker. I am prepared to go back into the business world tomorrow and to do it as an act of worship to God and service to my fellow man. I believe the sacred-secular dichotomy and the clergy – laity dichotomy are both toxic to the church of Jesus Christ. I have years invested in ministry to the business community. I am not anti-business nor am I anti-wealth – I am, however, concerned about the Christ of the Cross and the Cross of Christ and about the health of the church – and about our loss of a prophetic voice regarding materialism and the promiscuous pursuit of wealth.

In the mid-1990’s a philanthropic investment group, New Era, attracted the investments of a number of Christian institutions. It was a Ponzi scheme. The returns were too good to be true but that didn’t stop reputable Christians institutions from investing their funds. When New Era came crashing down my seminary had to lay people off as a result of its losses, a scenario which was likely replicated at other institutions.

The story of New Era is the same as the story of Bernie Madoff, which is the same as the story of investment and banking houses and mortgage companies in our current economic climate – whether what occurred was legal or illegal, because it is the story of lust for wealth and the attendant trappings of wealth, whether material or psychological or emotional.

In the case of New Era an accounting professor at one of New Era’s clients (dupes), Albert Meyer of Spring Arbor College, analyzed Spring Arbor’s investments and returns and knew there was something wrong – after being stonewalled by his college he contacted state regulators which eventually led to New Era’s downfall. Spring Arbor’s leadership was intoxicated by its returns on investment, as were New Era’s other clients.

Intoxication, that is the name of the game in wealth and power, and that is why it is a dangerous game – people who are intoxicated don’t make good decisions, and when an entire group of people are intoxicated unsightly things usually happen.

And this leads me back to the wisteria – it looks beautiful but it will kill the tree; which in turn leads back to the Apostle John’s stark warning:

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts, but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15-17

The harlot Babylon intoxicates the people of the earth (Revelation 17:2; 18:3). What is the church doing to guard its people against intoxication? How are we helping our business people think about the Cross and wealth, the Cross and vocation? How are we helping Christians think about the accumulation of money and “things”?

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